Sunday, March 08, 2009

Stay Graduate Stay

Brain drain is so bad in Louisiana that it merits a documentary detailing the tragedy. The problem concerns graduates who want to stay, but feel the economic pressures to relocate expressly for the purpose of gainful employment. I get the impression that brain drain is popularly understood as forced out-migration. Much more devastating is the inability to get out, stuck in a place with little to no opportunity. If you really want to live near home, then I'm sure you could find a way to make it work. But the policies necessary to make it easier for a person to stick around offer a distorted view of the economic geography:

[ULM political science professor John Sutherlin] said the loss of college students is a problem statewide, but particularly bad in northeastern Louisiana because of the loss of large employers in recent years and the type of jobs that are available.

"We're training them for jobs and careers that are viable, but they aren't viable in this part of the state," he said.

Economic Development Secretary Stephen Moret said part of the problem is that the state's higher education system is better suited for a state like Massachusetts or California.

"We have a much more skills-based economy," Moret said. "I believe strongly that the dominant reason is that other states have had growing economies and Louisiana has had a stagnant economy." ...

... Louisiana is one of the few states in the country without a population data center. The state has a demographer, Karen Patterson, but [Shreveport demographer and political consultant Elliot Stonecipher] said he doesn't believe she has the resources to affect real change.

Stonecipher said a major re-write of the state's tax structure is needed to begin to draw people in and keep young people, but changing the structure would upset the existing population and be politically risky.

The first suggestion is to train college students for opportunities in that neck of the woods. That is industry-centric workforce development in a nutshell. Prepare locals for local jobs. The approach is popular across the board, but does a grave disservice to the students. This labor mobility framework is out-dated.

The second suggestion is to attract the kind of employers that match the higher education training available. But putting all your eggs in one or two baskets puts your graduates at risk for the inevitable bust part of the economic cycle. That's what happened to Pittsburgh and Youngstown, along with a number of other Rust Belt cities. However, Pittsburgh did well to train its young adults for jobs that might not be located all that close to home. In the long run, that approach paid off handsomely.

The last suggestion is the tired libertarian refrain, tax-induced migration. The explanatory power of the lower tax narrative is fine for intra-regional (i.e. local) geographic mobility. Louisiana isn't going to steal talent from California or Massachusetts because it is relatively more pro-business. The pink steer in the corner is Texas. I'd bet that Louisiana schools provide a wonderful service to Texas employers. When it comes to attracting workers, Louisiana isn't going to out-muscle Texas. When it comes to diaspora networks, few states (if any) can rival that of Louisiana.

Help Brady Middleton succeed, regardless of location.


Josh said...

great points, but you cant FORCE people to want to learn and take initiative to succeed at education beyond the high school level. in dense inner city schools, by the tmie kids are in the fifth grade, they may be hopelessly behind in math and the sciences.
how is this culture changed? spending more on public schools? severe discipline in the schools? im breaking the issue apart to its molecular level, i suppose, but i think the state of public schools, and the quality of their education, is the backbone of success for this nation.

Unknown said...

Speaking of boomerangers, my friend Franco Dok Harris has announced his candidacy for mayor.